Crossing over to the New Blog

Chinese Word of the Day:  遣送回国
(qian3 song4 hui2 quo2 literally send deliver return country) repatriate

I’m now posting at so if you are curious about my continued existence, come and check it out. Please leave a comment if you do.  I always love to hear from you. – David Scott AKA Zale R. Dalen

Claiming the Big Box

Chinese Word of the Day:  坎坷
(kan3 ke3) frustrated

I’m currently living near Fulford Harbor on Saltspring Island.  I’ll be here for at least a month, taking care of my son’s business while he goes on a much needed holiday.  From now on my posts will be on the blog under my legal name, Zale Dalen.

Picture: Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island, B.C., CanadaOn Friday I got the word that my big box had arrived from China, so on Saturday I caught the ferry from Saltspring to Crofton and went to my friend Gordon’s place to borrowed his utility trailer.  I spent the night at Gordon’s, and then Sunday I dragged the trailer onto the ferry and out to Maple Ridge to my sister’s place.

Actually, it wasn’t quite that simple.  Nothing ever is when I’m dealing with rules and regulations and international borders.  Before I could take the trailer away, Gordon told me I’d need to replace one of the light bulbs for the brake lights and asked me if I had the hookup.  I was shocked at the question.  Brake lights?  Hook up? Apparently it’s illegal to pull a trailer without brake lights.  So I dragged the trailer up to Canadian Tire to get the hookup installed. They had no mechanic on duty, it being Sunday.  I bought the missing bulb.  The parts man said he could sell me a brake light hookup kit, but he didn’t have any in stock; I could try Lordco, right next the the Costco.

At Lordco they could sell me the hook up kit, provided I had sixty bucks.  The sales guy went out to the parking lot to show me where I’d have to break into the van to tap into the brake light wires.  We tried to open a little access hatch on the left hand side, but it was too tight to get open without pliers.  I noticed the hatch on the right hand side, opened it, and lo and behold, a brake light hookup fell out, already installed.  Must remember to thank the folks at the dealers for not cheaping out on me when they installed the trailer hitch.

After the ferry and driving out to Maple Ridge, my cousin Reta and her husband took me in to Balcara for a dinner party with friends and family.  I spent Sunday night at my sister’s, but was on the road again early to get up to Ruskin and pick up the sewing machine my cousin has given me.  Then I headed in to Richmond to claim our big box.  That’s when the fun started.

At the shipper’s office, Henry from Korea asked me for the bill of lading.  I gave him all the paperwork I had.  It wasn’t enough.  There was some vitally important document missing, essential to the continued function of the universe, and they wouldn’t release our box without getting confirmation from China that it had been shipped and had not magically appeared in their warehouse.

Henry told me that he might have the paperwork by that afternoon, so I drove to the warehouse where the box was incarcerated.  I could see it.

Picture:  Our big box in the warehouse.  So near and yet so unobtainable.

I could take pictures of it, provided I shot the pictures from the open loading door and didn’t step foot inside the warehouse, but I couldn’t take it away.

Picture:  The big box.  This closer picture makes the damage obvious.Even from the doorway of the warehouse I could see that the box has suffered some abuse but it looked generally intact.  The way we packed it, I wasn’t expecting any damage to the contents.

That’s when I decided to check on the time in China. It was two in the morning in Beijing.  Obviously I wasn’t going to get our box that day.  I hung out.  Practised my guitar.  Practised my banjo.  Practised my fiddle.  Took GouGou for walks.

I dragged the trailer to the Bridgeport Starbucks and had a venti latte.  The barista was from China and I got to practice my Chinese, much to his amusement.  Then I went back to the warehouse, set the trailer up on the ramp outside the only loading door that had a ramp, and took GouGou for a long walk around a huge field.

Picture: GouGou really enjoyed our walk around the big field.Picture:  GouGou rolling in the grass, one happy dog.

It was a beautiful evening.  There was a full moon rising directly over Mount Baker.Picture:  Moon rise over Mount Baker as seen from Richmond, B.C., Canada

We walked along a low dike around the field, as ducks and a Great Blue Heron fed in the ditch.  I slept in the van that night.Picture:  The van and trailer on the ramp, ready for a load in the morning.

The next morning I got an email with an attachment.  The paperwork was in hand.  Henry called to let me know I could load the box.  I went into the warehouse to talk to Kevin.  Kevin is from Shanghai, though he’s been in Canada for twenty years.  I got to practice my Chinese again.

Kevin wanted the customs clearance.  I told him that we had cleared the box with customs when we came through the airport.  We made a “declaration of goods to follow.”  No, said Kevin.  That’s not good enough.  I need an official stamp on this piece of paper, the bill of lading from China.  I called Henry.  “I told you to go to the customs and clear the shipment,” said Henry.  He sounded exasperated.  I sounded exasperated.  But this was not negotiable.  I unhitched the trailer and off I went to 333 Dunsmuir Street to see the nice man at Canada Customs.

He actually turned out to be a nice man, took care of stamping my document without argument, and faxed the stamped clearance to the shipper.  So by the time I got back to the warehouse, Kevin was ready to load my box for me, which he did by putting it on a fork lift and running it straight onto the trailer.

Picture:  Finally.  Ready to roll with the box on the trailer.

I was at the horseshoe bay terminal by noon, but that sailing was overloaded.  So I had to wait for the 3:10 sailing.

Picture:  Here we are in the ferry lineup at Horseshoe Bay.Picture:  Ferry lineup, Horseshoe Bay, B.C., CanadaPicture: The Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal with the small boat for Boan Island in its berth.

My favourite sushi restaurant in Horseshoe Bay has been closed.  GouGou and I hung out.  We met a lot of other dog owners.

I snoozed in the van for the entire ferry ride, only leaving it to use the washroom before we docked.

GouGou and I were at my house in Nanaimo by about five thirty.  The box has a crumpled edge on one side at the bottom, and the plywood has been punctured like it was hit hard by the fork of a forklift.  I opened up the box and took most of the instruments out of it, plus sheets and pillow cases and our kitchen knives and our folding camping chairs.  Nothing seems to have been broken.  I pulled out some of the heavy stuff just to reduce the weight.  Marshal, my tenant, was home and gave me a hand to get the box down into the crawl space. It fit just fine.

I delivered Gordon’s trailer back to him and had time for a quick shower in his open air outdoor garden shower, the best shower on the planet.  Then I took off to catch the 8:00pm ferry back to Saltspring, with twenty minutes to spare.

I made it to Saltspring in time to buy a couple of bananas and a bag of Cheezies for dinner and drive to the South End Grooveyard to hear Jason and Pharis Romero playing traditional music on instruments they made themselves.  They live on the old homestead up in Horsefly that used to belong to the family of my cousin Darlene’s husband, Ken Smith, who sold the property to them provided they make him a banjo.  They did.  I played it last year.  Beautiful instrument.  I’ve put down a deposit on a banjo for myself.  There’s a three and a half year wait for a Romero banjo, so I have some time to come up with the rest of the money.

Now I’m back on Saltspring trying to get up to speed on running my son’s business so he can take off in a much needed vacation.

Life remains interesting.

The Last Post in China

Chinese Word of the Day: 再见
(zai4 jian4 literally “again see”) goodbye

This is it for The Man in China. I’ll be in China no more, at least not for the foreseeable future. These last few days have been very emotional. Panda’s parents came all the way from Xing Tai, near Beijing, to say goodbye to us and take us to lunch. Wang Yijing’s parents came from Suzhou for the same purpose. Elaine phoned from Hangzhou and got all teary on the phone to Ruth. We had our last ride with Xiao He this morning, and we all got a bit teary. I’m writing this on the fast train to Shanghai where we will have lunch with the two Jennies and their husbands, plus Robin, Armstrong, Air, and our old Chinese teacher, Frank Chen. We still owe Frank 150RMB from our last lesson a year and a half ago, and we’ll finally remember to pay him back. I don’t know how much more of this parting stuff I can take.

I’m carrying my Italian violin, which I will leave with Jenny.

The Violin Story

I bought my Italian violin, a G.Guarneri del Gesù Il Cannone copy, in Toronto back in the days when I had money. It was made by Maurizio Tadioli an award winning violin maker who teaches violin making in Cremona and learned his art and craft at the feet of his grandfather, Carlo Pizzamiglio. It has the most beautiful tone, especially on the D string.

One hot summer day eight years ago when I was on my way to the airport in Weihai to go home for the holiday, I put my Tadioli violin on the ledge under the cab’s back window… and forgot it there when I went into the airport with my luggage from the trunk. I remembered seconds later, and rushed out screaming, but the cab was already gone and I had no receipt.

Our friend Ellen went to great lengths to get my violin back, contacting radio stations and newspapers with my sad story, but by the time it was in her hands it had ridden on that ledge at the back of the cab for two days in the intense heat of a Weihai summer. The finger board had melted off. The cloth cover inside the case had melted into the finish.

It’s worth noting that the cab driver refused a substantial reward for returning the instrument. Such has been our experience of the Chinese people.

Picture:  My poor damaged Tadioli violin.The following summer I had the violin put back together by Brian Hoover on Bowen Island in B.C. That’s when I learned that the nut was missing. Also, it had developed a wolf note on the G string and the finish was a disaster. Brian did what he could for it, and probably a bit of adjustment would cure the wolf note if I had time to wait, but I didn’t and I was not happy.

I contacted Maurizio and asked him if he had any advice on refinishing it. Here’s his reply.

Hello and thanks for your message.
I’m very afraid to what’s happened to my/your violin…. Please, don’t make any work and don’t give the violin to any maker to retouch or above all to revarnish!!! This is a special work that has to be done by the maker of the instrument. I’m sure that we can find the way to return the violin to me to fix the work. Don’t worry about the cost. I can make something special because I’ll be happy if my violin will return as before.

Let me know.
All the best,

I should have expected this, I suppose. Maurizio is not a hack factory worker; he’s an artist making pedigree instruments. I hung the Tadioli Il Cannone on our living room wall and there it served as room decoration for the past seven years. But now we’re leaving China and it’s time to do something.

I contacted Maurizio again and asked him for shipping instructions. Here is his reply:

Dear Mr. David,
Thank you so much to be back with the update of the violin.
In October I’ll be in Shanghai.
Keep in touch.
All the best,

And that’s why I’m now taking my violin to Shanghai. We’ll leave it with Jenny and hopefully Maurizio will be able to take it back to Cremona with him in October.

In a year or so, if Ruth and I are able to afford a trip to Italy, I’ll get to meet the maker of my violin, pay him whatever he asks for the refinishing job, and return with it to Canada. Whew.

 A Few Words about Jiangnan University and North American College

Our administration discovered that they had paid Ruth half of her travel bonus before schedule, so Roy in the office explained that she wouldn’t be getting as much money as I would get when we leave. Ruth pointed out that this would have caused her to pay more taxes than she should have paid. Roy said he would look into it. Here’s what he wrote a few days later:

Hi Ruth,

Thank you for reminding me of the difference in tax. I have calculated the difference. It is 55. You will get 550+55=605.

Best regards,


And here’s what I wrote back to him.

Roy, I have to tell you what a pleasure it is to deal with you and the rest of the staff here, especially in comparison with our previous university.  There our concerns over taxation were met with a refusal to consider the question, and a contract offer that we were obviously going to refuse.

You guys are great and I’m going to say so on my website unless you write immediately to stop me.

BTW, I’m told that some people actually read my website after all these years.  Who’da thunk it, eh?

Warmest regards

We have been very happy with our administration at Jiangnan University. They have been consistently friendly, considerate, and helpful. There has been a very appreciated lack of micro-management. They really made us feel like we were part of a family, and they cared about us. This, as I said to Roy, stands in stark contrast to previous employers in China.

If you are offered a job here, that’s all you really need to know. We wouldn’t have stayed for seven years if they hadn’t been good to us.

 So Long 三军车 (san1 lun2 che1) three wheeled vehicle/tricycle

I gave my trusty garbage bike to the wonderful woman who has kept your apartment stairway clean all these years. She seemed delighted to have it.

Picture:  Our cleaning lady and her inherited trike.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China She seemed delighted to have it.

Picture:  David and our jovial cleaning lady.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

A Few Thoughts on China

I tell people that coming to China has been the best decision of my life, and this is very true. It was a steep learning curve, but felt like a rebirth of my brain and a return to childhood, that time when I knew nothing and had to learn things like numbers and counting. It’s been fun.

With very few exceptions, the Chinese people are golden. They are friendly and helpful to a fault and their hospitality is unbelievable. I think much of this is due to the cache of the Western world, giving any foreigner high status here. But I also think it’s part of the Chinese nature, a result of their collective culture.

Of course there are things we didn’t like. I think China is making a huge mistake when they block websites, especially websites like the Khan Academy, a fantastic collection of educational videos. But just blocking Facebook and Twitter and Youtube is doing damage to their country. For a while I bought the idea that China was doing this because of the fear of unrest, trying to get control of the communications between citizens, and this may be a large part of the truth. This way they know that the servers are in China, and can be shut down at a moment’s notice. But also I came to believe that it was because China wants to give their own networks a leg up, and don’t want an Internet that is totally dominated by foreign powers. They now have this. They have their own version of Youtube (YouKu) Twitter (Weixin) and Facebook (XiaoNei) and Google (Baidu), and these have more users than any of the Western versions. It’s time China opened up completely to the West. To fail to do so is to follow the same thinking that lead to their defeat during the Opium Wars – isolationism and resistance to foreign thought.

We won’t miss the 没用的保安 (mei2 yang4 de bao3 an1), the useless guards that seemed to serve no purpose except to prevent our driver or moving van from getting to our apartment door. And we certainly won’t miss the walls and gates. There’s a mote around this campus, and our closest gate will never allow our taxi to enter.  There’s another gate at the entrance to our apartments buildings, and it closes and locks at 11:00pm, though we can still enter through the pedestrian door.  There’s a wall and gate around the other foreign teacher apartments, near the North gate, and that one requires a pass card, or buzzing the service station staff, for entrance.  It used to be that we could ride our bikes directly to those apartments, but a wall was put up across the back road so now we must ride around.  It feels like there are walls and gates and guards everywhere.  Our students have a hard time believing that in Canada there are no barricades or guards at the entrance to the campuses. But the Chinese do love their walls, their gates and their guards.  We don’t, though perhaps we would if we had their history.

Final Days

Picture:  Our seven boxes ready to float off to Canada in the campus post office.  jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThese past few days have been hectic. In addition to the big box we’d already shipped, we’ve packed up seven boxes of stuff that cumulatively might be worth the postage but mostly contain memorabilia and junk I should probably leave behind, with a few exceptions such as my magnificent Beijing Opera robe. We’ve given away anything of value that we didn’t want to take with us – our small electric oven, our crock pot, our pots, plates, cutlery, vacuum cleaner, fans, heaters, lamps, electric blanket -mostly to Panda and Gloria. Panda arranged for a hardware dealer to come and buy all my tools, my welding setup, grinder, and drill plus assorted wrenches, files, hammers and screw drivers. I was surprised to score almost a hundred bucks Canadian for the lot.  This still leaves a pile of small items for Panda to sell or give away as she sees fit.

Jeanette will be returning in the Fall, so I’ll leave her my bike. Ruth gave her bike to Panda. My left over boxes of helmets all went to the man at the bike store, to sell or give away.

We knew that we would be going to Shanghai today, and would have no time to get to the post office or bank after this, so everything except the very final packing has been done. Yesterday we got to the bank and exchanged our RMB for Canadian.  I picked up a couple of strings of pearls for my sister to give away. Now we can relax, party and visit until the van comes to take us to the airport tomorrow morning.

So today we had a final ride with Xiao He and a first class fast train to Shanghai, arriving about ten thirty, which was time enough to get to music street for a final visit with the maker of my Shanghai violin. I wanted to pick up a new case, since they are bound to be cheaper here than in Canada.

Picture:  a final visit to the maker of my Shanghai violin.Picture:  Two generations of violin makers.  Shanghai, ChinaWe made it in to Zen Restaurant in Raffles Plaza by 11:45am, just in time to join Lv Min and Simon.

Picture:  Lv min and Simon in Zen, Raffles Plaza, ShanghaiLv Min and Simon came bearing gifts, a saki bottle and glasses set for me and a beautiful shirt for Ruth.  We took a private room, and soon Robin, Air, and Armstrong joined us, all students from our days teaching in Weihai six years ago.

Picture:  Lv Min and Ruth in Zen, Raffles Plaza, Shanghai

Picture:  Frank Chen and David with Frank's present.  Zen restaurant, Raffles Plaza, Shanghai

Picture:  Frank Chen and Ruth with Ruth's present.  Zen restaurant, Raffles Plaza, ShanghaiArmstrong came all the way from Hangzhou to have lunch with us.

Picture:  David with Armstrong, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, Shanghai

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Ruth with Air, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, ShanghaiAgain it was an emotional time. Ruth ordered a fantastic spread of our favourite Zen food, including three dishes of chicken feet in bean sauce, a favourite of mine, shrimp dumplings, pineapple rice, wild mushrooms and meat, pork slices, sweet and sour pork, sausage and rice, cooked lettuce, lettuce leafs with something tasty on them, pot stickers, popcorn shrimp, Peking duck with toufu wrap, and a durian pastry, all finished off with the traditional watermelon. I was a bit disappointed that Zen no longer serves the ginseng tea I used to drink by the potful, but aside from that no complaints at all. Two of the things we will really miss about China is the food, and the prices. Zen is a classy restaurant with great food. Never the less, when I picked up the tab for the meal it came to 933RMB to feed ten people. Less than $150 Canadian. Less than $15 Canadian per person. At that price even poor English teachers can afford to look like big shots.

Picture:  David and Ruth and friends, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, ShanghaiWe handed off the Maurizio Tadioli Il Cannone to Jenny…Picture:  Xiao Qiang and Jenny with my Tadioli violin.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China paid Frank Chen the money we owed him… Picture:  Ruth hugs Frank Chen.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China

and had a wonderful time with our young friends from Weihai. All in all, a perfect way to wrap up our time in China.

Picture:  Armstrong and David.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I’m writing this on the train back to Wuxi. We said goodbye to Frank Chen in the subway, with him going South and us going North. Jenny and her husband went with us on the subway as far as the Shanghai train station.

At the Shanghai railway ticket station we got our tickets for this train, leaving at 3:15. We’ll be back in Wuxi by four o’clock, and home by five.

Picture:  Ticket lineup Shanghai railway station ticket office.  Shanghai, ChinaAnd another first for China. In the ticket lineup, a young man seemed to be jumping the line. In fact he was just joining his girlfriend at the ticket booth, but an older gentleman scolded him and told him to get to the back of the line. We’ve never seen such behavior before in China. I’d always assumed that recognition of a lineup was simply optional, and that nobody wants to lose face by complaining when somebody jumps the queue.

The Last Night in Wuxi

We got home about five o’clock.  Panda and Gloria were waiting for us.  After I had a shower, a nap and a vodka tonic we all heading into the village for a barbeque.  Ruth packed our wine glasses and a bottle of Spanish red wine.

Picture:  Gloria, David and Panda in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Student celebrate the end of the term.  Shitang Cun barbecue, Wuxi, ChinaWe enjoyed another feast while a table of recent graduates next to us got roaring, puking drunk.  We ignored them.

DSC08785Picture: Shitang Cun street barbecue, Wuxi, China And we had a great time soaking up the atmosphere for he last time.

tPicture:  Panda and Gloria enjoy the street barbecue, Shitang Cun, Wuxi, ChinaThere’s a lot we’re going to miss about China.  Most of all our friends and the good times we’ve had here.

Picture:  Gloria at the street barbecue.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

And that’s all she wrote.  End of the story.  We all got pleasantly tipsy amid the wonderful street ambiance.  Then Ruth and I went home to finish the final details of our departure, Ruth to look at customs requirements and me to do this post.

It’s now twenty after one in the morning.  Our ride to the airport comes at 9:30am.

Time to call it a day, and the end of a nine year China adventure.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Proving My Point About Helmets

Chinese word of the day:  头盔
(tou2 kui1)  helmet

Jack says he wasn’t riding fast.  Far from it. He was coming in the little east gate of the campus.  Ahead of him was the traffic barricade and a pylon.  He was leaning forward on his handlebars to look around the pylon and didn’t notice that there was a two inch drop in the pavement.  Going over it, the bump caused his hands to slip off his handlebars and because all his weight was forward, down he went.  It happened just that fast.

Picture: Jack with the helmet that saved his head.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaJack landed on the back of his head.  Here’s what his helmet looks like.

Picture; The back of Jack's helmet, split and broken.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaLately I’ve been feeling a bit silly about wearing my helmet all the time, and preaching to students about the value of a helmet.  There is a loud and vocal, if misinformed, anti-helmet lobby that is active now, including a TEDx talk by a very persuasive man who has spent several years researching and campaigning to get people to stop wearing helmets and revoke helmet laws. (Strange fixation on his part, and it’s my belief that he’ll be responsible for quite a few deaths before he himself is dead and forgotten.) A good friend of mine bought the arguments, and told me that she is no longer intends to wear a helmet.

The anti-helmet activists make some valid points, and we don’t want a “nanny state” with laws about every possible hazard and danger, but helmets still make good sense.  My brain is too valuable to me to put it at risk simply to feel the wind in my hair.  I continued to tell students about bike helmets, and to wear my own.  But really, I lost my inspiration and initiative and lately… yes, I’ve been feeling a bit foolish.  Nobody else on campus wears a helmet, except for my wife and Jack.  I haven’t fallen off in years.  Riding a bike doesn’t feel dangerous.

And now Jack proves my point.  I don’t know whether he would have been seriously hurt, or suffered any brain damage, in his fall.  We can be fairly sure he would at least have had a headache and a bump.  He could have lost everything – his short term memory, his long term memory, his ability to remember his own name, his ability to control his body, his ability to teach a class.  He could have lost it all.  I’m very glad he was wearing his helmet.  And I’m glad he renewed my faith in my bike helmet campaign.

It’s a nice bit of closure as we’re about to leave China and return to life in Canada.

The Big Box

Chinese word of the day: 箱子
(xiang1zi) chest, box, case

After endless phone calls and much help from the wonderful Panda Wang, we decided that the best way to get our stuff back to Canada was to buy a big box and ship it by sea.  We don’t care how long it takes to arrive.  Accordingly we went back to the small commodities market and tried to buy one of the used equipment cases in one of the booths.  They wouldn’t sell just the case, because there was a flat screen TV inside it, but they did offer to make us a custom case for a great price:  1,100RMB = $203.13 Canadian at today’s exchange rate.  I suppose this is overkill for a shipping crate, but it sure is a beauty of a box.

The big box was delivered while we were away in Shuibian.  It was waiting for us on our return and it is very impressive. I hate to think what a box like this would cost in Canada, but I’m sure I couldn’t get one for two hundred bucks.  That wouldn’t cover the cost of materials, let alone the locks, wheels, and the rest of the hardware.

Picture:  the hardware on our big box.  Wuxi, China

Picture: Ruth in the process of packing the big box. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaSo next came the loading.  Ruth considers herself a master of the use of space, and I don’t argue with that assessment.  She packed the box with everything long, big, or heavy that we thought has enough value to justify the shipping cost.  She made everything fit so snugly that nothing is going to rattle or bump into anything else. The list includes my old dead Mac, which I want for parts when I get home, a classical guitar, a banjo, two mandolins, two erhu, two pipa, three Chinese drums, two Chinese chess tables with stands, a suitcase full of video gear, our lighting kit, my heavy duty tripod and microphone boom, and a whole pile of bits and pieces,  the whole packed in with sheets and clothing.  Loaded the box weighed between 200 and 300 kg., far too heavy for us to carry down the stairs.  So so that called for documenting how things fit, emptying the box, taking the box down to the yard, and filling it up again.

Picture:  The boys from the shipping company ready to take the box away.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaNothing is ever Simple Here in China

We expected the moving company to bring in a truck to take our box away.  But that would be too easy.  The guards wouldn’t allow the truck on campus.  So the two guys from the moving company walked the box to the little East gate.  Good thing it was on wheels.

Picture:  Walking the big box to the little East gate.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaIn the photo above he is calling Panda to ask why the foreigners are following them.  Don’t we trust them?  We got Panda to explain that we just wanted to see the box go on to the truck, and take some pictures.

Picture:  Loading the big box onto the truck.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I think it was a good thing they had my help getting the box onto the truck.  I was surprised to find that they had no loading planks, which would have made the job easy.

There are still a lot of questions around this shipment.  The shippers were reluctant to take it without sending it through a customs broker.  Supposedly no broker is needed if we send it by air, and simply declare that goods are to follow us when we clear customs, but that would cost a fortune.  For some unknown reason, sending it by sea will call for a customs broker.  That will also more than double the cost, according to their estimate.  So we sent it off and told them we will arrange for a customs broker when it arrives in Vancouver.  No doubt that will take some phone calls and discussion, but at least we can do that in English.

Our Panda Has Flown from the Nest

Panda has been sleeping on our living room floor for the past couple of months while she gets her business doing medical/dental liaison for foreigners up and running.  It’s been just wonderful having her as a house guest, and we hate to see her move out.  But her timing was very good.  She’s found a really classy apartment close to the South gate of the campus.

Picture:  Panda Wang with her parents.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaToday her parents are visiting from Nangong near Beijing.  They took us out for dinner last night, yet another feast, and will cook dumplings in our apartment this evening.

That’s it for Classes

It’s been an emotional couple of days.  This morning I had my last class in China.  I can’t really believe that it’s been nine years since this adventure began, nor that it’s now coming to an end.

Picture:  My final class with 10BA1.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaFor the most part, I’ve enjoyed teaching in China and loved my students.  I’m going to miss them, and miss this lifestyle.

I Do Love Chinglish

I snapped this picture while we waited at a stop light.  All they needed was the letter B and and a bit of letter shuffling and they would have had it right.

Picture:  Chinglish sign on a car trunk.  "Baby on Road" Wuxi, China

Our Dog is in Canada

Chinese Word of the Day:  旅游者(lv3 you2 zhe3) tourist, traveller, visitor

Our dog is in Canada, well and happy in the care of my wonderful dog loving sister Catherine, and what a relief that is.  The weather here this week has turned stifling and humid.  We got GouGou out of China in the nick of time.  The airlines won’t fly a dog if it’s too hot on the tarmac.

Picture: Our Belgian neighbours say goodbye to GouGou.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaOur Belgian neighbours say goodbye to GuoGuo.

A week ago today I loaded GouGou’s travelling cage, her 房子 (fang2 zi, house), into the back seat of Xiao He’s car,  packed the full size plastic skeleton into the trunk along with my viola, encouraged our dog to get into her fang and we were off to the North Gate to collect my sister.  Ruth bade a tearful farewell to our dog and we headed off to Pudong Airport.  Xiao He kindly stopped at a Starbucks on our way out of town, so I had a latte and a restroom break.  Catherine wisely refused any liquid beverage, remembering her last trip to Pudong and her desperate need for a washroom on arrival.  It was a long drive.  By the time we got there, both of us were counting the seconds before we could make it through the washroom entrance.

GouGou was much admired by our fellow passengers as we moved her through the long line to the check in counter.  A Chinese gentleman behind us assured us that his son had recently sent a dog to Canada and the animal arrived happy and healthy.  At the check in there was a lot of measuring and weighing and a $240 charge for sending the dog. I had to pay 1,140RMB to fly the skeleton, which is just about what I paid for it in Shanghai.  But aside from the not unexpected fees, everything went smoothly. GouGou’s papers were in order.  Nobody tried to put her through the ex-ray machine.  A nice young man wheeled her and the skeleton away to special handling.  Catherine and I sighed with relief and went up the escalator to the bar for a gin and tonic and a light lunch.  Both really hit the spot.

Our Final Soft Sleeper Train Ride in China

After seeing Cath off at security, I made my way to the Metro/Maglev station.  Three yuan would have taken me by subway to the city centre, but fifty yuan on the maglev would do it a lot faster.  Remembering the subway ride as very long and tedious, I bit the bullet and bought a maglev ticket.  A stop at People Square for another Starbucks latte and I heard from Ruth that she was on the train and almost to the main Shanghai railway station.  She was holding, along with our guitar and her overnight bag, our tickets for Xingan in Jiangxi province.  Ruth had to transfer from the train to line one on the subway and make her way to the South Shanghai station where she had a ten or fifteen minute wait before I, warm Starbucks raisin scone in hand for her, got off the subway to join her at Exit 4.

We found our waiting lounge at the South Shanghai railway station, and soon were joined by Jenny.  As luck would have it we’d managed to get on the same train to her home town, or more accurately Xingan, the town a mere twenty-two kilometres from her home village of Shuibian.

Picture: On board the train in soft sleeper to Shuibian, ChinaOn board the train we discovered that though the numbers of our berths were sequential, we had been assigned different cabins.  That was quickly solved when the young man who had the bunk across from me offered to trade. Soft sleeper on a train is our very favourite mode of travel, especially in China.  It’s just so great to lie there in comfort and watch the country roll by.  Unfortunately most of this trip was at night, so there wasn’t much to see.  We shared our cabin with two pleasant young gentlemen. After the rigours of the day, I slept quite soundly.

Picture: a boy marvels at the foreigners in the market at Xingan, ChinaWe arrived in Xingan early in the rainy morning, and were met at the train station by Jenny’s brother with a nice old beater of a diesel crew cab pickup truck.  Luggage went into the back and we all crowded in: me, Jenny, her husband Xiao Qiang, and Ruth in the back seat and Jenny’s friend with her baby and the driver’s eldest boy in the passenger front seat.  A short ride took us to a street market where Jenny’s grandmother was selling, but in our case forcefully giving away, steamed cobs of corn still in the husk.  We all enjoyed a noodle breakfast at a tiny restaurant before loading up for the trip to Jenny’s village.

Picturee:  Jenny's village in the distance.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Jenny’s village has changed a little since our last visit almost five years ago.  There is construction everywhere, and signs of the prosperity brought by jobs away from the farms.  The recent prosperity is evident in the grandeur of its houses, the more modern of which are three story concrete buildings faced with ceramic tile.

Picture:  Jenny at the door to her uncle's home in Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  Proud prosperity in front of the old houses.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

The old village, crumbling into ruin, still exists behind the new.

Picture:  the old village behind the new buildings.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  Jenny's uncle and nephew, Shuibian, Jiangzi, China

Living for a few days in the house that Jenny’s father built is a constant reminder that our organizational systems were all invented. Most of them are lacking here.  There’s no place designated as a makeup or shaving station.  No hooks for clothing outside the shower doors.  There is a stand with a single cold water tap outside the bathroom and kitchen, but no mirror or shelves.  The refrigerator does exist, but in a separate room from the kitchen, possibly as a result of the feng shui principle that cold should be kept away from hot.  Jenny’s father has renovated since our last visit. The old kitchen in the back has been replaced by a stairway to the added top floor, and cooking is now done in a small separate building a few steps from the front door.

Here:s Ruth’s description of the “kitchen”, taken from the China update she’s about to send to her mailing list:

Not Quite Like Back Home — Kitchen
Words can be deceiving. Just as ‘house’ doesn’t conjure up (for this Canadian at least) the apartment-like structures that many of the villagers now live in, the word ‘kitchen’ doesn’t bring you close to seeing the rooms where most cooking is done here. Jenny’s fathers new kitchen is not like any kitchen I have seen back in Canada, so clear from your mind any preconceived notions of kitchen, remove appliances and cupboards and laminate counters. Replace these with a square concrete room about 8 to 10 feet to a side. Stand in a doorway in one corner and look into a fairly dark room lit primarily (and dramatically) by the one window on the wall across from the door. Note the one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling that will light the room once the sun goes down.

To the left of the window, jutting into the room four or five feet, is the cooking area, which consists of a giant built-in wok — at least 2 and a half feet across — where most of the food is cooked and, I discovered later in the evening, the dishes are washed when it doubles as a sink. Leaning against the wall, behind the wok, is a large round wooden lid that can cover the wok when not in use.

Picture:  The cooking room in Jenny's father's house, Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

There is a smaller wok (which Jenny tells me is used mainly for soups), inset, but removable, between the large one and the window wall. There is a third cooking area in the corner, wedged between the other two, with a large pot set into it.

The cooking areas are all heated from underneath by wood fires fed through separate square openings in the side of the concrete cooking area. The openings to feed the fires are not covered, lending a nice glow to the space after dark, and a certain primal flavour whenever they burn. To the left of the doorway is wood for the fire, stacks of twigs, branch pieces and split logs, organized by kind, piled to mid-thigh height. It is in easy reach of the fire openings under the biggest wok.

      Across from the doorway, under the window, runs a narrow counter, providing a work and staging space. There is a wooden table just inside the doorway on the right. If it is close to a meal time this may be covered with bowls of food that have been cooked, in preparation for them to be brought to the table in the main living space of the house.

The kitchen and the entire cooking area, like the rest of the house, is made of concrete. There are modern touches in this new kitchen though: the counter under the window has a layer of large white tiles on the surface and around the woks you will see a faux-wood laminate that looks the same as the flooring in the third-floor room we were given to stay in. There is a sink, but you will have to turn around to see it. It is outside and across from the doorway to the kitchen, and it isn’t really a sink per se, but a tap that runs above and onto a tiled counter. The water just runs freely to the ground.                                          -Ruth Anderson

Next to the kitchen is a new bathroom with a squat toilet and a shower. The shower only has cold water. Jenny told us a mouse destroyed the hot water line.

Speaking of Squat Toilets

The toilets are a bigger issue than you might imagine. There’s almost no way I can use a squat toilet as intended. First of all, I can’t squat worth diddly. And when I do, there’s a problem with getting all the excrement in its intended receptacle without making a mess that is difficult to clean up. Fortunately there was a solution, though not a comfortable and dignified one.  The toilet in Jenny’s Father’s house is actually raised a few inches above the floor of the shower.  That meant I could sit on it.

Bath Time

Picture:  Bath time with two boys in the old wash tub in Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaThe adults use the shower, but for the kids it’s bath time like grandma used to do it.

Food Preparation

Much of the domestic activity takes place outdoors, centred around the well.  Nothing is wasted.

Picture:  Food preparation and laundry around the family well.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaThe intestines of the goose are opened and washed, becoming part of the soup or stew.

While we were there it was time for the annual cleaning of the well at Jenny’s uncle’s place.

Picture: Cleaning the well in Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

Ruth has more great pictures up on her Flickr site, or will have soon.

Picture:  Wringing out the bed sheets, hand washing in Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaThe well is the centre of activity, and the washing is still done with a wash board and tub, with water drawn from the well with a bucket on a rope.

Dinner Time

I’m told that meals are normally much simpler than we experienced, but this was Dragon Boat Festival, a time for eating zongzi (sticky rice with pork cooked in a banana leaf) and feasting from multiple bowls containing multiple creatures – frog, turtle, goose, fish, pork, eel, chicken, and veggies – all washed down with bowls of home made rice wine.

Picture: Making zongzi.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaThe women of the family are expert zongzi makers.

Picture: Making zongzi.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaDinner was always a feast.

Picture:  Jenny's family at the festival feast.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  Jeny and Xiao Qiang at dinner.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

These are hard working farmers.  They are proud of their food and wine, and my bowl was impossible to empty.  Endless toasts, endless injunctions to 喝酒 (he1 jiu3, drink wine), followed by immediate topping up of the wine bowl, made monitoring my intake impossible.  I could only judge how much I had drunk by how drunk I seemed to be, and fortunately that didn’t seem to get out of hand.

Picture:  Bowl of rice wine.Picture:  Boy with slices of watermelon, Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  the family enjoys a festival meal in Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaThe homes all have concrete floors.  Any scraps of food or bones simply fall on the floor, to be scavenged by the chickens or dogs and swept up later if inedible.  This is one aspect of the lifestyle I can really appreciate.  We westerners are all so anal about our living space.  There are other ways to deal with life.

Picture:  Chickens are welcome in the living room.  In fact, they have their own dooor.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  Chicken and chicks in the living room, Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo


If I had to come up with one word to describe Jenny’s village, it would be “texture”.  The old walls, the pathways, the various surfaces, all have delightful texture and colour.  This is not something we see in a modern city.

Picture;  Xiao Qiang and Jenny in her old village.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  Chickens and a mossy wall, Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture: a back alley in the old village, Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaThen There’s the Countryside

Picture:  The shining green fields of Shuibian, Jiangxi, ChinaIncreasing rice prices have brought prosperity to many rural areas.

Picture:  The shining green fields of Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

The land around the village is stunningly beautiful at this time of year.  I was constantly reminded of the line from the song, 童年 (Tong2 Nian2, Childhood)

(Yang2guang1 xia4 qing1ting2 fei1guo4 lai2 yi1 pian4 pian4 lv4you2you2 de dao4tian2,
In the summer sun the dragon fly skims the shining green rice paddies.)

And that’s just what was happening.  In the summer sun, the dragon flies were flying in formation, squadrons of mosquito eaters patrolling the beautiful green fields.

Picture:  Tobacco field, Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Unfortunately many of the rice paddies have been replaced with the cash crop you see in the picture above – tobacco.  Jenny says that this may not last, as fewer and fewer Chinese are smoking.  China is changing.

This is a place where the 水牛 (shui niu, water cow) is still in important component of rice farming, though we were seeing more and more of the robo-mules sitting in the fields.

Picture: A robomule in a field near Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

There must be practical advantages to the cold metal tractors, but they sure don’t have the charm of the beasts.

Picture: Farmer ploughing with a water buffalo near Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I suppose a lack of charm is something for a foreigner to lament, when we aren’t the one walking behind the water buffalo pulled plough.

Picture:  A water buffalo wallows in his pond near Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

Picture:  A farmer walks his cow home after a hard day of ploughing.  Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

A Different Attitude Toward Life

I remember my uncle Bill knocking down the swallow nests in his garage because they pooped on his car.  In this place, they consider swallows a bringer of good fortune, and welcome them right into their living rooms.  And this is how they deal with the poop:

Picture: Swallow nests with poop catchers in a living room in Shuibian, Jiangxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

There were swallows flying in and out of these nests as we enjoyed the visit to Genny’s grandparents.  These cardboard poop catchers solved the droppings problem.  Swallows eat mosquitoes.  That seems like a darn good reason to encourage them.  It made me sad to think of my uncle knocking down those nests when he could have hung a poop catcher under them and enjoyed the free mosquito control.

On the Train Back to Shanghai

Unfortunately we missed our chance to buy tickets for the Wednesday train back to Shanghai, and couldn’t leave until Friday.  That was embarrassing because it’s the first time either of us have missed classes.  We sent a text message to our assistant Dean, Linda Song, and got a rather terse reply: “I see”.  不好意思 (bu2 hao3 yi4 si, feel very embarrassed).  I could read a world of meaning into that message, but there was nothing to be done about the situation, of course.  Travel at any time around a Chinese festival like 端午节 (duan1 wu3 jie2, dragon boat festival) is always difficult as the whole country heads from the big cities to the home village for a family celebration, just as Jenny and her husband did.

Picture: David in his longji, aboard the train for Shanghai.

-Ruth Anderson photo

I’m writing this on the train back to Shanghai. The long ji I bought in Thailand is serving me well. What a great garment this is for hot and humid weather, and I suppose the fact that I am a foreigner is contributing to the acceptance of this dress-like attire by my fellow passengers, none of whom seem to be giving me a second glance. It was with great relief that I shed my heavy trousers with the bulging pockets. (Actually, the reason my longji isn’t hanging with its usual elegance is that I have my trousers on underneath it.  I almost forgot to get this picture, and didn’t want to shed the trousers to take it. ) I wonder whether the world will ever be more accepting of gender specific clothing on the wrong gender. Maybe men have a battle to fight similar to the one women fought to gain the acceptance of trousers.

I mentioned the longji. Perhaps I should also mention the huangjiu I’m drinking. It’s been a feature of every meal since we arrived, home made rice wine by the bowl full with constant toasts and directives to he jiu. Since I expressed appreciation of this beverage, Jenny’s father gave me a two litre bottle to sustain me for the journey homeward. I’m working my way through it, but there will be enough left to share with Panda and Gloria on our arrival.

Time for a Rant

Chinese Word of the Day:  毕业
(bi4 ye4 ) graduate

Picture:  an example of a limerick.  North Ameridcan College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThere once was a lady from Wuxi
Who liked eating all kinds of sushi
she said I’m not Japanese
But I’d like some more please
I’ll eat all the uni I do see

I had to make up this limerick because all the examples I could remember involve unusual sexual positions or genitalia. “Limerick”, rather improbably, was one of the words on the students’ vocabulary list.

Our last half term of teaching in China and we’ve been teaching grammar.  This is stuff our students have been studying since primary school, so it isn’t much of a challenge for them.  For me the challenge is teaching something that is absolutely useless in the real world.  Unless one is going to be a teacher of grammar, I can think of no reason why anybody would need to know that a gerund is a verb that has been turned into a noun by adding -ing.  Yes, I can understand that such a word is used as a noun, but why on earth would anybody need to know the name for it, and be able to identify it as opposed to, say, an infinitive.

So that’s my first complaint.  The material seems to have been invented by an anal retentive academic with a fetish for classification and naming beyond what has any real value.  Seriously.  You people out there in the real world;  Do you use the word “gerund” in your daily conversation?  Do you know what that word means?  Do you care what that word means?  But that’s only the first complaint.  My main problem is that prescriptive grammar tries to tell people how the language should be used, but nobody follows the rules.  Now everybody says “Who are you going with?”  not “Whom are you going with?” or more elegantly ‘With whom are you going?”  To use the latter constructions would mark one as a pompous pedant and certainly set one apart from native speakers of English.

But that’s not the worst of it with this course.  Not only does no normal person obey the prescribed rules of grammar, even the person writing the book couldn’t figure out the rules and follow them.  An infinitive was clearly explained as a verb that could be used as a noun when combined with “to” as in the sentence: “To swim is my greatest joy.”  but the examples given include sentences like “To most people he appeared to be normal.”, in which “to” is a preposition and “to most people” is a prepositional phrase, definitely NOT an infinitive.

Then there’s the book’s confusion about clauses and phrases.  A clause supposedly differs from a phrase in that the former has a subject and predicate.  So in the sentence, “O’Henry, an American author, was known for his surprise endings.” the words “an American author” form an appositive phrase, not a subordinate clause.  Yet there it is in the examples, as an example of a subordinate clause.

So not only have I been struggling to teach something that is totally useless, and has no application in the real world outside of the profession of grammar teachers, I have been struggling to teach it while correcting the mistakes in the book that is supposed to support the subject.

I can understand teaching students that “their” is possessive, “there” indicates position, and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”.

I can understand teaching that “its” is the possessive while “it’s” is a contraction of “it is”, or that “who’s” is a contraction of “who is” while “whose” is the possessive.

I can understand teaching that “your” is possessive and “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.”  I wish half the people posting on the Internet understood this distinction.

But if there is any value in knowing the definition of an appositive phrase, it is beyond me to see it.

It will be a real pleasure to finish this term, complete the paperwork, and walk away forever from prescriptive grammar.

So, What Am I Teaching?

For their written assignment, the students must generate a paragraph that begins with a simple declarative sentence (subject + predicate) that can serve as a topic sentence, followed by a compound sentence (independent clause + conjunction + independent clause), followed by a complex sentence (independent clause + subordinate clause in any order), followed by a compound-complex sentence (two or more independent clauses with a subordinate clause, again in any order), and finally completed with a simple declarative sentence that can serve as a conclusion.

Picture: an example of various sentence structures forming a paragraph.  North American College of jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaAbove is an example I generated.  It’s colour coded with blue under the independent clauses, red under the subordinate clauses, and yellow under the conjunctions.  This is not the way to create great prose, but at least it shows how a variety of sentence structures can form a paragraph.

Here’s another:  I have been trying to convince the students that a topic sentence like: “My best friend is a lovely girl.” really conveys no information at all.  Here’s an example I generated to illustrate the potential of using actual description.

Picture: a paragraph combining the different types of sentence structures.  North American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I’ve asked the students to at least try to pick a subject that interests them, and generate sentences that are interesting, amusing, silly, or otherwise worth reading.  Perhaps my examples are not sufficient inspiration, but I’m hopeful that my final marking in China will not be yet another exercise in painful tedium.

Collecting the Sister in Shanghai

My sister Catherine arrived last week from Vancouver.  She’s here to take our dog back to Canada.  It turned out to be cheaper to buy her a return ticket and have a visit with her than it would have been to send the dog by itself.  GouGou’s name is pronounced GoGo = “dog dog” in Chinese.  The Chinese favour double syllable names for dogs; Names like FeiFei (fat fat) or WangWang (woof woof).  She can’t fly with us when we leave at the end of the month because Air Canada will not accept a dog after June 20 and our contracts run to June 30.  Hence the visit from Catherine.

I caught the Gao (high speed) train in to Shanghai and took the subway to the airport to meet Cath’s flight.

Picture: The gao train glides into Wuxi, station.  Wuxi, ChinaI still have a hard time believing these trains are happening right now.  Truly we are living in the future.

Picture:  the train speed listed as 292 km/hr. on the Wuxi-Shanghai run.  Almost 300 klicks and as smooth as sitting in my living room.  Acceleration so gentle that I hardly feel it.  You can tell that the gentleman in the picture below is on the edge of his seat with the adrenalin and thrill of such speed.

Picture: passengers sleep on board the Wuxi-Shanghai gao train.  ChinaTheyAnd then into Shanghai with its amazing subway system, so well designed that even a foreigner can find his way with no problem.  I am always impressed with the system.  Less so with the passengers, many of whom seem incapable of understanding that letting passengers off the train before they try to board is a good idea.

Picture: people unclear on the concept of not blocking the exiting passengers.  Shanghai, ChinaThe double layers of doors are a great improvement.  They prevent anybody from being pushed onto the track in front of an approaching train, and prevent suicides, which I know happen in Toronto far more frequently than you would ever imagine.  What they don’t do is prevent people from standing in front of them when passengers are trying to get off the train.Picture:  people unclear on the concept of letting the exiting passengers out before crowding in.  Shanghai subway station, Shanghai, ChinaDespite the brass arrows inlaid right into the platform, there are always people who stand right in front of the doors and push to board while the passengers are trying to get out of the car.

Cath’s Visit

We’ve had a wonderful time with my sister for the past ten days.  On her last visit she was cheated out of a day in Shanghai by a call to fill in for a missing teacher, so she was looking forward to a day in the city.  During this visit she also got in a day trip to Nanjing with Gloria and Panda

Picture:  Cath, George, Panda, at lunch in Wuxi, ChinaGeorge had us out for a hotpot lunch with the daughter of one of his father’s associates, a girl who needed to practice her English with foreigners.  He also drove us to a new park along the lakeside where GouGou could run off leash and we could admire the flowers.

Picture:  Gloria, Catherine, and Ruth in Wuxi, ChinaTheyGloria, Catherine and Ruth and I (behind the camera, of course) had fun shopping and exploring Wuxi.

Picture: Sister Catherine in Shanghai, ChinaAnd Cath got her day in Shanghai.  That’s the famous Pearl Tower in the background.Picture: Where's Catherine, lost in the crowd at a market in  Shanghai, ChinaTime to play “Where’s Catherine”.  She’s in the picture, and I can see her.  My sister had a limited shopping list.  She wanted to buy some fans for children to play with, and some trinkets for other family members.  Really just an excuse to get into the markets of Shanghai, which we did with a vengeance.  Ruth had a bit of stomach trouble so she stayed behind at a Subway restaurant while Catherine and I and our friend Chen WeiWei, who had come to Shanghai for the day with us, explored the pet market and antique street.

Wrapping up the Term

One of my classes invited us all to a restaurant for an end of term feast.  Despite what might seem like hostility and attitude expressed on the T-shirt below, the students were all friendly and welcoming, and we had a great time.

Picture: Student in Fxck School T-shirt, Wuxi, ChinaThe students laid on a great dinner feast, complete with beer and bai jiu (pronounced like “buy Joe”, Chinese vodka) and thousand year old eggs.  I’m going to miss these fine young people.

Cath has been renting one of the vacant apartments in the foreign teachers’ building for her stay here: 80 yuan/night ($13.30 Canadian/night) for a clean and comfortable suite that includes a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom with western toilet, shower, and washing machine.  A bargain.  Last night we all gathered there and had pizza delivered from Papa Johns.  We’ve been working this weekend, because that gives us three days off for the Dragon Boat Festival holiday.  GouGou has had her last visit to her beloved campus island park.  I gave her a bath.  We’ve applied the topical medicine, protecting her from fleas, ticks, and heart worms.  All her paperwork is in order and her reservation for the flight has been checked and double checked.  Tomorrow we’ve arranged for our favourite driver, Xiao He, to come to our apartment to take me, GouGou and Catherine to the Shanghai Pudong airport where I’ll see them off to Canada.  We’re ready.

Once again it’s Graduation Time

I always find this time of year rather bitter sweet.  The students we first met four years ago are now graduating, and I’m frequently stopped on campus with a request for a picture.  They are moving on, though many of them will be going for “further studies” because the job market for a mere BA is bleak.  And of course this is our last year in China, and we are moving on as well.  Sigh.  It’s time, but that doesn’t make it feel better.

Picture:  Da Dawei with four of his former students. Juangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThe students have made me feel welcome and valued here.  I hope they all have a bright and happy future.


Another Outing with the Zhu Family

Our friend George was busy working last weekend, but he arranged for his parents to take us to Chang Shu, a town near Suzhou for a relaxed tea party, a walk through temple grounds, a speciality noodle lunch, and a cable car ride up a mountain.  Chang Shu is a small town, but it still managed to have a Starbucks so I could assuage my Saturday morning coffee craving on our way to a very traditional Chinese tea garden.

Picture: Tea in Chang Shu, ChinaMrs. Zhu is a formidable hostess, constantly pressing fresh fruit and snacks on us as if we would starve to death without constantly ingesting something-  xiang jiao (bananas), ying tao (cherries), yang mei (wax berries?  I don’t really know what they are called in English), and xi hong xi (dessert tomatoes) all before the speciality noodles for lunch.

Picture: Cable cars up Yu Shan, in cars that were suspended saunas.

The new yellow cars had doors locked from the outside, no windows that would open and very limited ventilation.  They were like riding in an aerial sauna on the way up the mountain.  Going down we waited for the older cars, with windows that would open, and they were much more comfortable.

Mr. and Mrs. Zhu at the top of Yu Shan.  Chang  Shu, ChinaThe Zhu family has been so very warm and welcoming to us.  And now they are talking about visiting us in Canada after George gets married.  Since there’s not even a girl friend in sight, we have no idea when that might be.  Hopefully we’ll find our feet and be settled in before they arrive.  I’ll really want to pull out the stops on the hospitality, because I’ll never be able to repay the kindness they have shown us in China.

We loaded my inflatable boat and outboard into George’s father’s car when we got home.  I’ve given it to George because I’m too lazy to try to sell it and I like the idea of passing it along to a friend.   His father likes fishing, so maybe it will see some use.  I haven’t had it in the water since last year, and it wasn’t worth the shipping costs to send it to Canada.

As a parting gift, Mrs. Zhu insisted on presenting us with two large xi gua (watermelons).

We were home in time to join a small group of fellow teachers at Tepanyaki Restaurant for all you can eat and drink Japanese grill to celebrate the birthday of Lise, a fellow teacher.  I was too preoccupied with the eating and drinking to take any pictures.

Arrival of Big Sister to Fetch the Dog

Catherine arrives the day after tomorrow.  She’ll stay until June 10, and then take GouGou home with her to Canada.  I’ve already posted about this, but it bears repeating.  It turned out to be cheaper to buy my sister a return ticket to Shanghai and have her take our dog home with her than it would have been to just ship GouGou by herself.  And this way my sister gets another trip to Shanghai, which she missed on her last visit because she got caught up in teaching, plus our dog gets a much less stressful journey to Canada.  Win win all around.

I’ll be going in to Shanghai to meet her plane on Wednesday afternoon right after my morning classes.

Another Impromptu Student Poll

I never know what to expect from my students, but I was very happy to find that they are not quite as superstitious as I’d feared.  Four to three saying that ghosts aren’t real is close, but not a consensus.

Picture: Student poll, are ghosts real. 3 to 4 say no. Jiangnan university, Wuxi, ChinaIt’s a small sample size and university students.  My suspicion is that most Chinese firmly believe in ghosts and spirits, and most likely demons and angels as well.  the country may be officially atheist, but not the people.


My New Chinese Teeth

Chinese Word of the Day: 假的
(jia3 de) bogus, ersatz, fake, phoney.

I think I was about twelve years old when I was riding my bike home from Boy Scouts into a nasty sleet storm.  I would look up to see where I was going, then put my head down again so that I could keep the sleet off my face while I peddled.  I looked up a second too late, went over the handle bars and found myself eating the ornamental trunk release on the back of a parked car.  That took a semi-circle out of my two front teeth.  Eventually I had them capped, and then capped again twenty years later.  Crowns only last so long.  Fortunately the technology keeps improving, and each new set of front teeth has been an improvement over the old set.

I got my new front crowns today.  My third set of fake teeth.  I didn’t really have to replace the ones I had.  They probably would have given me another few years.  But one of them was chipped, which made it look very real indeed, and both of them were old technology – porcelain on a stainless steel base.  My new caps are solid porcelain.  The thing that really caused the decision for me was the price.  These new teeth cost me 3,600 RMB ( $591.86 Canadian at today’s rate).  That’s the total for the pair of them.

Picture:  My new front teeth don't photograph well.  They seem to look better in real life.  Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I’ve been trying to figure out what these kinds of crowns would cost me back home, and I’m guessing they would cost at least $1,500 each, or more.  That means a person could cover the cost of tickets to China and a week in Wuxi, touring the area, and still spend less than they would spend on two new crowns back home.  More to the point, it meant I should get them replaced before I leave China.  Done.  Feeling good about the result.

Guo Wei has her own Website

Our friend Guo Wei (Sherry Guo) asked me if I could give her a website for English so she can post her pictures.  As luck would have it, the domain name was available and as part of my deal with Dreamhost, my service provider, I could register if for a year for free.  (That was a deal I was unaware of until I put in the order.  Gotta love Dearmhost.)

Guo Wei is just getting into playing with her new site.  Her first move was to give it a nice rosy pink look. That is so very Guo Wei.  You can check it out and say hi here.

As always, I live for your comments.


Chinese word of the day:  朋友
(peng2 you) friend

有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎 (You3 peng2 zi4 yuan3 fang1 lai2, bu4 yi4 le4 hu1) is one of the Analects of Confucius: Is it not a joy to have friends come from afar.

It felt like no sooner had we put Mary on a plane for America than Guo Wei came to visit.

Picture: Guo Wei on the campus of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaI met Guo Wei (pronounced alarmingly close to “go way”) during my first posting to the Shandong Electric Power International  School in Tai’an.  I  immediately developed a quiet crush on her.  Of course she was far too young at the time to be have any romantic interest in an old dude and hopefully I was mature enough to not make my feelings too obvious. That would have been truly creepy. But we hung out together and went roller skating and bowling and I tried to avoid looking like a love sick teenager.  Then Ruth arrived in China and any (okay, most) thoughts of Chinese women were laid to rest.

Picture:  Chinese lessons on the train with Ruth and Guo Wei to Guangzhou, China, 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Guo Wei became our mutual friend, and accompanied us on our first winter vacation to Hainan Island and then for the cruise down the Yangtze River to the Three Gorges Dam, an adventure of a lifetime.

Picture: Guo Wei, David and Ruth on the plane to  Hainan Island, China 2005This was Guo Wei’s first time in an air plane.

Picture:  Guo Wei on Hainan Island, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Guo Wei on Hainan Island, 2005.

Picture:  Guo Wei under in the air under a para-sail dragged by a boat.  Hainan Island, China, 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Sanya has all the usual tourist thrills, so we sent Guo Wei up on this para-sail behind a speed boat.  We also had a day of scuba, though it was not what Ruth and I expected.  The big poster at the entrance was very deceptive.  It made it look like two independent divers were exploring a reef together.  That’s not the way it worked.  Customers were given ten minutes of instruction, no fins and no BCD (Buoyancy Compensation Device).  Instead we were afflicted with our own person controller, a big Chinese guy who powered us around to see the few remaining bits of reef that hadn’t been thoroughly trashed.  Ruth and I both have open water certification. We called it “scuba dragging”.  But Guo Wei had never been under water before and she was thrilled.

Picture: Guo Wei on Monkey Island, Hainan, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture: Guo Wei with a python, or possibly a young boa.  Sanya, Hainan Isnald, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

And then we had the Three Gorges cruise culminating in what we affectionately called the “Tour of the Damned” and the “Bus Ride from Heck”.  A story for another time.

Picture:  Guo Wei on the Three Gorges Dam, China, 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

After returning to Tai’An we went with Guo Wei to visit Qufu, home of the Kong family of which Confucius is the most famous member.   Then Guo Wei’s family invited us to visit her home town, a tiny village that, minus the satellite dishes and wide screen TV’s, could have been back three centuries.  That visit is one of the cherished memories of my time in China.

Picture:  The view from Guo Wei's village,  Rizhao, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture: Picture: Guo Wei and her sister, behind her mother and father.  Rizhao, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Knowing that her family were farmers, and that their money was very hard earned, we told Guo Wei to make sure her family didn’t spend any money entertaining us.  You might as well try to stop the tide.  Her mother and father laid on an amazing Chinese feast, including dog, a very expensive meat purchased specially for the visitors, cicadas picked from their own apple orchard, and several other tasty dishes some of which I could not identify.

Picture:  About a third of the feast that Guo Wei's mother served us.  Rizhao, China, 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

This was only a small part of the feast Guo Wei’s mother put on for us.  She kept popping out of the kitchen with yet another tasty dish, and since there was so much food it wasn’t obvious that we’d eaten any of it.  “Eat. Eat.” she said, like she was playing the Jewish mother in an America sitcom, as if we hadn’t been eating at all.

Guo Wei’s father offered a piece of dog meat to the family dog.  There was no mistaking the response.  The dog curled back her lips and spat the meat out on the floor, then backed away from it.  Apparently dogs are not cannibals.  We, on the other hand, felt socially obligated to savour the expensive treat.

I asked about the cicadas and, after being told they came from the family apple orchard, expressed interest in seeing how they are collected.  That lead to a cicada hunt the next evening.  Since cicadas are bugs, and have wings, I was expecting some kind of drama in catching them.  Perhaps we would need nets and have to chase them.  But no, they were clinging to the trunks of the apple trees and collecting them was more like picking blackberries.  My problem was that the trees had been grown and shaped for Chinese apple pickers, and I was on my hands and knees to get close to their trunks.

Picture:  Cicada hunt in Rizhao, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture: The wily cicada caught in the flashlight's beam.  Rizhao, China 2005

-Ruth Anderson photo

There was more to that visit.  I played Chinese chess with Guo Wei’s father, which is a nice way to relate when you lack language.  We met her sister and brother, and heard their stories. We were treated like visiting royalty, and the phrase that kept coming to my mind was “salt of the earth, these people.”

Guo Wei came to visit us once when we were working in Weihai, but we hadn’t seen her since moving to Wuxi  almost seven years ago.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But the minute I saw her it was like no time at all had passed.  The best of old friends are like that.  Guo Wei is more mature, more sure of herself, but still the same sparkling personality and beautiful person.Picture:  Ruth and Panda went with me to see Guo Wei off at the airport in Wuxi.  She's heading back to Shenzhen and her job there.  Wuxi, ChinaRuth and Panda went with me to the Wuxi airport to see Guo Wei off to Shenzhao where she is working.  I’m still feeling sad at seeing her go, and knowing that it could be a very long time before I see her again.  If ever.

There are people in China I’m really going to miss when we return to Canada at the end of June.

Advice to the Incoming Teachers

I get requests from prospective teachers, asking me about our experience here.  These are two of my latest responses, with the questions.

Hi K…:

I’ve finally crawled out from under, and except for trying to update my website today I have some time and can answer some questions.

> What stuff should I make sure I bring?  What stuff isn’t all that important?

I honestly can’t think of anything you should bring that you can’t find here.  I always bring some of my favourite comfort foods, like a dozen tins of canned salmon and some stone wheat crackers.  But really, this is a modern city and everything you need can be found here cheaper than you could buy it in America.

> Do you have any ideas like, “I wish I had brought ____________” when I came?

We wished we had brought weather stripping for doors and windows.  But Ruth brought some several summers ago, so we’re fine now.  Really can’t think of anything else you might want.

> I understand there is a winter there….how cold does it get?

The winters are quite mild, with only a week of snow, but it is a damp cold so it goes to the bones and most of the classrooms are not heated.  You don’t need to prepare for a winter in North Dakota, but you will want good insulated footwear.  We bought electric pads for our feet for use under our desks, because the floors in our apartment are like ice.  But again, anything you find you need is readily available, from clothing to space heaters, and cheaper than you’ll find it back home.

>What is the ‘dress code’ for teaching at the university?

Dress code?  Hah.  Casual seems to be fine.  Extremely casual has been seen on occasion.  We had one extremely overweight teacher here, recently departed (as in went home, not died) who walked around in sweat pants and a t-shirt that didn’t cover his amazing belly.* I heard nobody complain.  Most of the teachers here dress casual, but conservative and tidy.

*Lest anybody think I am scorning this fellow or saying cruel things about him, please understand that I would be happy in a culture with far less body shaming than we have and I wouldn’t care if people went about their lives naked, no matter what their body looks like.  I mention this particular former teacher only as an example of our, thankfully, lax dress code.  Truth is, I thought his belly was rather magnificent.

>Anything else you can think of that a new teacher should know?

Yes.  You have to do preparation once the course starts, of course, but don’t do too much ahead of the first class.   I spent two weeks prepping for a course I was told I would teach, but at the staff meeting the day before the course started I was told I was teaching something completely different.  Don’t worry.  You can deal with what will seem like a crazy lack of organization and planning.  The secret is to relax, do your best, and go with the flow. This is not a very demanding job.  You can probably skate by with minimal work, though we really try to give the students something of value.  It’s that darn Protestant work ethic.

> I appreciate reading your blog of your experiences….and thank you for any
> additional advice you may have.

My pleasure.  If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them.

> My best to you in the next adventure!

Thanks, and the same to you.  I hope you enjoy your time here.  We certainly have.

And this in answer to another prospective teacher:

> For example, what would you say is the best aspect of your job?  And the
> worst?  Compared to other universities (or even other types of schools and
> age groups) in China, how does working at JUNAC compare?  I have heard many
> horror stories about terrible working conditions in China, yet others that
> are wonderful.

The best aspect of my job is the low stress level.  We are not micromanaged.  We get quite a bit of paid time off.  Universities pay less than private schools, and we could make a lot more money at other institutions, but we’d have to work a lot more hours every week and we’d probably be dealing with less upscale students.  You can’t beat Jiangnan University compared to other schools.  It’s in the top fifty of the top one hundred universities in China, a beautiful campus, comfortable living conditions, the usual mod cons provided – Internet access, furnished apartment, washing machine –  far from luxurious by western standards, but clean and quite acceptable.  We like the administration.  They have always treated us with respect and consideration, despite the fact that pampered foreigners can be a demanding bunch.  I don’t think you will find any horror story here.

> How is living in Wuxi or JUNAC?  Do you feel isolated, or are you connected? >Similarly, I don’t necessarily need a huge expat community (far too many ESL
> teachers overseas are amazingly immature boars), but it would be nice to
> experience some of the western creature comforts at least occasionally.

Wuxi has the second highest per capita income of any city in China. It’s very modern.  There are at least a half dozen Starbucks, all doing land office business.  The town has much improved since we came here.  They’ve poured a ton of money into the infrastructure, parks, tourist attractions, museums.  It’s clean to the point that it sparkles.  By the time you get here the subway should be running. That means you can be at the train station in fifteen minutes, and into Shanghai in an hour and a half if you time it right.  The fast trains are incredible.

We feel quite connected.  We can be in Shanghai or Nanjing for breakfast and home again for dinner.  There’s a fair sized ex-pat community here, and a couple of western restaurants that are like being in America or Australia.  Cost of living is very low, and we can eat well at the smaller Chinese restaurants without stretching our salary at all.  If you want to hang out in a western bar every night and eat western food, your salary might not cover your lifestyle.  But I find I can easily bank every second paycheck and leave it untouched until we go on vacation or home for the summer.

> If you have any other thoughts or comments for me, please do tell me.

We had one teacher here who did not enjoy the experience, which made me feel bad because I gave the place a glowing review.  But he was simply unwilling to go with the flow and cut the administration any slack.  For example, he asked for a library card (I’ve never had one and don’t ever go near the library, since so much is available on line.) Because the library is under a different administration, and somebody there was paranoid about foreigners not returning books or something, it was politically difficult to get the library card to happen.  Finally he threw a tantrum in the administration office.  One of the managers made a phone call to somebody, using up his precious guanxi (relationship) and possibly causing himself some future obligations.  So the teacher got his library card.  Was he happy?  No.  “It just took a five minute phone call to get my card.  Why did it take three weeks of complaining to get it.”  You see the problem. Despite winning a popularity contest with the students, or so he claimed, that teacher was not invited back.

The Chinese have ways of doing things that are a bit foreign to us.  Here in China we have learned, for example, never go to our boss with a problem.  We would go to somebody who has the ear of our boss and ask for a suggestion about what we should do to solve the problem.  That way the boss is not put on the spot.  Everything gets handled through an intermediate, and depends on guanxi.

The New Course: EAP 3003

This week, Ruth and I started teaching English for Academic Purposes 3003.  The new course promises to be a lot more work than the last one, with much more marking.  I’m going to try to end my China teaching career with some quality diligence.  This morning I gave one of my classes the pre-test at the beginning of the text book. It took me most of a forty-five minute period to write this test myself, and  I only scored 94/100. It’s a hundred question on general grammar that I haven’t studied since Grade three elementary school and, frankly, knowing the number of verb tenses in English has never been very important to me.  I was quite surprised when they turned in marks ranging from the low sixties to eighty-one.  They may not be able to talk, but they do seem to know quite a bit about English grammar.

I live for your comments, so please leave one.